Presented on Wednesday, June 6 in the Barn at Quarry Farm. “One mournful wail is heard from shore to shore; A Nation’s heart is stricken to the core,” wrote Albert Evans in the April 17, 1865, issue of the San Francisco newspaper the Alta California. Mere days after the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, Evans expressed the nation’s grief with his heartfelt poem, “The Martyr.” Not everyone was impressed, least of all Mark Twain, who criticized the poem’s ending “Gone! Gone! Gone! Forever and forever!” by writing, “I consider that the chief fault in this poem is that it is ill-balanced—lop-sided, so to speak. There is too much ‘gone’ in it, and not enough ‘forever.’”
With signs of mourning everywhere, most writers were respectful even of bad poetry written about the martyred president. Twain, by contrast, lampooned such poetry, and even joked about Lincoln’s assassination. It was only in later years that Twain began using Lincoln’s special status as a martyr to exhort the country to live up to the slain president’s ideals. Twain’s evolving use of Lincoln for satirical purposes charts the evolution of the writer from a “damned secessionist,” as one government official called him, to his reconstruction as the “Lincoln of our literature.”
Joe B. Fulton is Professor of English at Baylor University in Waco Texas, where he has been honored as an "Outstanding Professor for Scholarship" and as a "Baylor University Class of 1945 Centennial Professor." Dr. Fulton has published numerous books and articles on American literature. In addition, he has published four books on Mark Twain: Mark Twain's Ethical Realism: The Aesthetics of Race, Class, and Gender (1997); Mark Twain in the Margins: The Quarry Farm Marginalia and the Composition of A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court (2000); The Revered Mark Twain: Theological Burlesque, Form, and Content (2006); and The Reconstruction of Mark Twain: How a Confederate Bushwhacker became the Lincoln of our Literature (2011), winner of the Jules and Frances landry Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Southern Studies and honored by Choice as an "Outstanding Academic Title."